Information in this article was updated on April 14, 2023.
Earlier this year, as Ukrainians watched Russian tanks and troops mass at its borders, the government began the physical preparations to defend its country and its people. Less noticed were the digital fortifications also underway—plans to secure the data that is an essential record of Ukraine as a nation and of those who call it home.
Before the Russian invasion, Ukrainian law required certain government data and select private sector data to be stored in servers physically located in Ukraine. A week before the Russian military invaded the country, Ukraine’s parliament passed legislation to allow government and private sector data to be moved to the cloud. To accomplish that, Ukrainian leadership put out a public call for help. Amazon Web Services (AWS) was among the first organizations to respond.
Because of AWS’s previous experience in disaster response and activities helping Ukrainian organizations build their cybersecurity defenses in the lead up to the conflict, AWS technical experts (including solutions architects) were able to quickly establish secure communications with officials in government ministries in Kyiv and with Ukrainian representatives across Europe. On February 24, the day of the invasion, members of the AWS public sector team met with members of the Ukrainian government. The discussion focused on bringing AWS Snowball devices—ruggedized compute and storage hardware—into Ukraine to help secure, store, and transfer data to the cloud.
That conversation was on a Thursday. By Saturday morning, a set of Snowballs arrived in Kraków, Poland. Late that night and early into Sunday, they reached their destinations in Ukraine. These Snowball devices would become the foundation for the effort to preserve Ukraine’s data. Working across time zones and language barriers, AWS solutions architects partnered with their technical counterparts in Ukraine to quickly begin the process of securely moving critical Ukrainian government data to the cloud. Moving huge swaths of information from local servers to AWS data centers is called a “migration" in the cloud business.
In responding to our immediate needs, we have never lost sight of the future, of building a better Ukraine augmented by new, cutting-edge cloud technologies.
As the conflict continues in its fourth month, AWS continues to add to over 10 petabytes (10 million gigabytes) of essential data already migrated from 42 Ukraine government authorities, 24 Ukrainian universities, the largest remote learning K–12 school (serving hundreds of thousands of displaced children), and dozens of other private sector companies. Right now there are 100 government data migrations to AWS, with more expected to come.
While preserving Ukrainian data is an important driver of this massive effort, perhaps more important is how this data is being used to help Ukraine’s people. For example, migrating information about educational degrees and university curricula from the Ministry of Education and Science helps thousands of students prove the validity of their education when applying for work or pursuing another degree. The effort also helps students continue with their final exams at the end of this school year, whether they are in Poland, Moldova, or Ukraine. Scientists across a multitude of disciplines are moving their research—representing decades of effort and data—to the cloud, so they can preserve and continue their work. In one case, AWS is supporting research to monitor air quality—specifically radiation levels—around nuclear power plants close to conflict zones in Ukraine.
The digitization of Ukraine’s Land Registry secures the continuity of the state. AWS helped the State Land Cadastre create an automated system that allows citizens to remotely access information such as property area, location, and profile. The preservation of this data is vital for both those who invested their life savings into property and for Ukraine’s future reconstruction. This work will help with rebuilding neighborhoods and entire cities as it provides a secure record of who owns what and where.
Private businesses have seen similar advantages. As the war unfolded, Ukraine’s largest private bank, PrivatBank, which serves 40% of the Ukrainian population, moved all its operations to the cloud. The bank’s technical team worked with AWS to securely migrate 270 applications and 4 petabytes of client data residing on 3,500 Ukraine-based servers, in less than 45 days. According to PrivatBank’s head of IT Mariusz Kaczmarek, the reason for the move was “to limit our dependence on hardware located in different regions across Ukraine from being destroyed during the war.” But when the war is over, Kaczmarek doesn’t see a reason to go back. “We intend to continue operating in this mode further on,” he said in a LinkedIn post. PrivatBank’s customers can now access their funds and the bank’s services online. While not precisely “business as usual,” they are conducting business, and the same is true for the Ukrainian government.
In spite of all the physical destruction, the government can serve its citizens. That has not been the case in many wars or natural disasters. When people and governments have started to rebuild, they’ve often been forced to do so almost from scratch. In that context it is why, in modern war, data has become both a target and vitally important to protect. All of this data that has been moved to the cloud describes the lives and the nation Ukrainians hope to reclaim and rebuild when the war is over.
“We used to assume that this is just how it is in war—everything gets destroyed and you have to rebuild from nothing,” said Liam Maxwell, director of the Government Transformation team in the AWS public sector business and a volunteer in AWS’s efforts to aid Ukraine. “But by migrating to the safety and security of the cloud, the government and its citizen services prevail.”
“From the day I began working with the AWS team, I have been impressed by their singular focus on helping the Ukrainian people and ensuring that our government can continue working despite external disruption,” said Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom. “What is also amazing is that, in responding to our immediate needs, we have never lost sight of the future, of building a better Ukraine augmented by new, cutting-edge cloud technologies."
AWS is honored to be working alongside the Ukrainian government and other private and public organizations to support the people of Ukraine. We will continue to aid the relief efforts and to bring our technical expertise and services to those who need them.